Seriously– I was totally going to talk about the cameos in Tart and Sweet, but my picture function wasn’t working, so I’ll do that tomorrow and talk about something that’s been bothering me…
Okay– I attended a BUNCH of panels in Kansas City and World-Con, and I enjoyed myself. For the most part I hung back and knit, and let the discussions rage on–especially at first.
And I have to admit, I’m sort of wishing I’d opened up at the beginning, because there are a couple of things I need to get off my chest.
Let’s start with the one that will piss the fewest people off. (Given this year, HA, but I’m going to hope.)
Okay– the panel was about whether or not science fiction/fantasy can have a romantic HEA, and this was a real opportunity to say something meaningful about individuality in sci-fi, but they missed it by letting the panel devolve into a big shipping session about Han and Leia. Now, on the one hand, it was fun to hear people talk about Han and Leia, but on the other…
Let’s talk a little about HEAs in sci-fi.
Traditionally, they weren’t there. Or if they were, they were implied. There’s a reason for this and it has to do with a male dominated literature. Sci-fi/fantasy was a man’s venue for a really long time, to the extent that if women wrote in it, they did the same thing women did in gay romance when it first started–used a male pseudonym or initials.
Part of the reasons that men didn’t want women’s POV is that they felt women cheapened the genre with romance.
Okay– I know most of my readers are romance readers– try not to go off and strangle the man nearest you if they think this is true. Just… just no. Together, we can defeat Trump, but we cannot let this separate us. I’m serious.
The thing is, “epic” fantasy and “epic” science fiction were struggling for legitimacy back then, just as romance is now, and one of the things that helped to give it legitimacy was that word “epic”. Epic is a literary word– and it has some specific meanings:
Epic literature deals with universal themes– good and evil, society sustainability, survival and apathy– the big shit. For those of us who loved LotR, the ELF stuff, not hobbit stuff. Big shit.
Because of this, epic literature deals with multiple governments and belief systems and often, with a journey or a quest from one to the other. How else do you prove that one’s aspirations are mighty than to have them be mighty in many kingdoms?
Epic literature deals with ELVES, dammit! In the textbooks I taught from, they called it “nobility”, which my students hated, so I started calling it social heft. It means that, regardless of birth or rank, epic heroes are the ones people listen to, whose decisions determine the fate of many people, rather than fucking up the one.
Very often, because of this, the epic hero had no agenda OTHER than the saving of many lives. Peter Jackson got very sneaky, giving us the full scope of the Arwen/Aragorn love story–but in the original text, we got a couple of hints and a dry appendix. Otherwise, Aragorn’s entire agenda was SAVING his PEOPLE. I have often compared the epic hero to Superman– he has very basic heroic drives, he is absolute in his right over wrong, and yes, when he speaks people listen.
And Lois Lane, in the old Superman stories, was little more than comic relief. Because remember? Superman wanted to be with her and he had to give up his superness?
That’s the perspective of someone who believes that epic heroes get no social life. They are too busy doing epic shit.
So science fiction and fantasy writers were proving that they were making EPIC SHIT. And if you’re writing EPIC SHIT, you do not, by any means, put in a sweet little love story. Unless it’s intended to be comic relief, or proof of the common people existing in the world, or thrown in as an afterthought.
So this whole question of Han and Leia COULD have been very relevant to the discussion. Because the fact is, whether the relationship was on the rocks when the Force Awakens started or not, they HAD a relationship, and a child, and some pain, and they even had a reconciliation, which was GREAT. But more importantly, we watched that movie, which was so very much about EPIC SHIT and we thought that their relationship was important to the EPIC SHIT, and so, in a way, the idea that epic heroes could have an HEA was very very very…
I say close, because let’s look at the end of that movie.
The end where Luke Skywalker, the celibate Jedi, has been a recluse, hiding away from all hobbit interaction so he can do his penance for a big mistake like a brooding elf.
And so the idea of whether or not HEA–or romance–belonging in an epic fantasy or sci-fi story is still in question.
And the idea of it being acceptable in sci-fi or fantasy literature is still up in the air.
Having a hero who both does EPIC shit and PERSONAL shit is what makes a hero a ROMANTIC hero and not just an epic one. In English lit, this is when we went from Beowulf to King Arthur. In comic book world, this is when we went from Superman to Spiderman.
So Han Solo? He was a romantic hero. Sure, he’d help the damned alliance, but could they, for the love of Yoda, maybe pay off his frickin smuggling debts? And would it suck so much if the girl could kiss him sometimes?
But Luke, with his earnestness and celibacy (and YES, dammit, celibacy matters, because it means our hero is not taking anything for himself and is therefor sacrificing his personal agenda for his epic agenda) is still the MOST IMPORTANT PUPPY in this universe.
I mean, Rae left her friend in a coma to serve the greater good. If that’s not an epic agenda, I don’t know what is.
So the question of, “Can an HEA exist in Alternative Universe Literature” is bigger than Han and Leia– and it’s even bigger than Star Wars.
Because the HEA –and the importance of the personal agenda in the midst of EPIC SHIT has been the purview of the female writer since Elinor of Aquitaine. (She IS the one who brought over King Arthur, right?) While the men were going, “Beowulf GOOD, he rip head off MONSTER!” the women were going, “And who was going to keep the children safe, plant the crops, and make sure our damned race didn’t get eaten by Grendel, that’s what we want to know. I mean we’re going to do the procreating, we would like it to not be onerous or disgusting or an act of force, please. Yes, fine, he ripped the head off the monster, we’re really fucking grateful, CAN WE FOCUS ON THE JOYS AND SORROWS OF LIFE NOW.”
And you can see where we need the balance, right? You can’t focus on the joys and sorrows of life if the monster is going to destroy your livelihood– but if life isn’t at least a little bit fun, you might as well feed yourself to the goddamned monster.
So when we ask ourselves, “Is it possible to have an HEA in AU,” what we really need to be asking ourselves is, “Why not? Is fantasy and science fiction only concerned about the slaughtering of the monsters and the bad guys and the resolutions of governments and the greater social agendas? Or is there room for the individual concerns, individual happiness, a personal agenda, in the midst of all of the DOING EPIC SHIT?” In this frame, the “Can an HEA exist” becomes more “Can the individual attain happiness in this alternative universe?”
It’s not even about romance anymore when you think about it like that (although romance is a big chunk of it.) When you think about individual happiness in the context of societal stability, you’re asking a very basic question about the nature of government and the nature of an individual in securing peace in his or her time.
Which is sort of where I thought that panel would go.
Because as much fun as shipping Han and Leia was, they’re not the only couple in the universe. In determining the fate of one, it’s also necessary to make that fate a possibility for the many.
And how to do that is a discussion I’d like to see happen someday.
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Tomorrow, as long as my picture import works, I’ll talk about the cameo in Tart and Sweet without naming any names. I want to explain why it was sort of necessary for at least one of those people to show (although you can’t have one without both, so, you know, both.)